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Basketball: North rides defense, clutch shooting to fourth straight title

It seems as though North Forsyth's players each heard the same question before the season.

Is North going to be any good this season?

Haelim Adle had a simple answer.

"Just come watch our games," Adle would say. "We'll show you."

And on Wednesday night, Adle and the Raiders showed anybody still curious that the region runs through Coal Mountain. 

Anna Gliatta scored a team-high 15 points, Maddie Erickson led a lockdown defensive effort and North won its fourth straight region championship with a 46-42 victory against South Forsyth in the Region 6-7A title game.

"It means a lot, because we're a team that doesn't have any seniors, but we've shown that that doesn't really mean anything," Adle said. "It can be led by juniors. It's very important that we just come together and played when we needed to. It means a lot because it shows that we are still North, and we are still carrying North's legacy."

Ali Jones also finished in double figures with 13 points. She drained three 3-pointers in the first half, including back-to-back shots at the end of the second quarter that allowed North to take a 30-18 lead into halftime. 

On defense, Erickson surrendered little inside the paint, holding South forward Ava McGlockton scoreless in the first half.

"If I could lock her down and stop her, then we've pretty much got it," Erickson said. "She's been scoring a lot of points, I've seen, so if I could shut her down, and if everybody else did their part, we've got it."

But South staged a second-half comeback that began immediately after halftime, when Sharon Tolliver hit two straight field goals to set South's offense in motion. 

Tolliver buried a 3-pointer midway through the third quarter, and McGlockton started to get going, breaking her scoreless streak with 5:01 left in the third quarter to bring the score to 34-24.

South cut the lead to eight points by the start of the fourth quarter, but had three players in foul trouble, and by the 4:17 mark, Maggie Thompson, Clara Morris and Tolliver each had four fouls. 

Jones turned Morris' fourth foul into a layup off an inbounds pass, snapping a 9-2 South run that had shrunk North's lead to three points. Thompson fouled out minutes later.

Jadyn Knicely's layup made it a 44-42 game with 1:20 remaining, but South didn't get the ball back until the scoreboard showed 1.6 seconds left in the game.

"Yeah, I was surprised, because we told them to, and we told them which players needed to foul because we had people in foul trouble," South head coach Keith Gravitt said. "So, yeah, I was surprised."

South finally fouled with fewer than 20 seconds left, which sent Jones to the line. 

Jones missed, but Adle gobbled up the rebound, and another South foul sent Gliatta to the free-throw line.

Gliatta, who had made only 1 of 6 free throws in the second half, sank both and made it 46-42 with 1.6 seconds left.

"Well, I didn't make any of my other ones, so I was just thinking, 'I have to make these two,'" Gliatta said.

Gliatta is no stranger to the postseason. Her overtime layup against North Cobb last season in the Sweet 16 forced a double overtime, where she scored six more points to rally the Raiders into the Elite Eight.

"I'm telling you, as the moment gets bigger, she just comes through at that clutch time," North head coach Brad Kudlas said. "It's crazy. She's got ice in her veins."

Adle scored eight points for North, while Erickson chipped in five points and three blocks. 

"Maddie does a great job," Kudlas said. "She's our floor general on defense — we've talked about her all year. In my opinion, she's the best post in the region. I know she doesn't have necessarily the points that show that, but she does all the little stuff. It's amazing the little things, and how much she helps us out, helps the guards and recovers."

South (21-6) will host third-place team out of Region 7-7A next week in the first round of the Class 7A playoffs.

"It's tough to come beat a team that has tradition on their side, in relation to the last few years, at their home gym," Gravitt said. "They earned that right; that's not an excuse, because if you're going to knock somebody off, you've got to do it on their terms. I'm proud of our girls and the heart and the effort that they showed."

North (21-4) is nearly perfect at home this season, the Raiders' only loss coming in a 38-34 loss to Cherokee in the Raider Classic on Nov. 24. 

North will host the No. 4 team from Region 7-7A.

"That fourth quarter, it was tough. Some balls don't go your way, and a couple of things, but that's just where they overcame it," Kudlas said. "This one's definitely sweeter. Those girls, to come out here and win a region championship with five juniors and eight sophomores, that's something big."